Joe Stead – The Ramblings of an old Codger. Part Three December 2000.
What a strange old month November turned out to be. In Britain it proved to be the wettest Autumn in 300 years. (Oh. And a big thank you to all of you who wrote with concern that Nora and I might have been washed away in the floods. It’s ok, if you didn’t know; we live on a steep hill, so we simply watched the torrents gushing past us to drown the peasants in the valley! There are far too many of us in this world – so it was good to see the end of some of them, even though a lot of them were very good friends of mine. It’s a few less mouths to feed and a bit more space for me. We have, after all, entered the “Blow you Jack era” so why should I pretend to be any different than other human beings!).
In Europe the World Environmental Meeting collapsed with recriminations flying in all directions. Our man blamed the French. For a start off the French representative was falling asleep. Apparently she could also not understand that the American way is without doubt the best way!! So eventually Britain walked out in disgust implying she was stupid. This is a turn around. A few years ago I was playing Hell with the French for testing their nuclear weapons deep beneath the Pacific Ocean whilst the British Government supported their every move. I was ashamed to be British then and I feel much the same today. So now nothing is to be decided for another 12 months or so. But does it really matter any more I wonder? Are we not 20 or 30 years too late already? Pete was warning us about this problem in the 1960’s. Bob Dylan took time out to listen to him, so why didn’t we?
The British Government continues to make a laughing stock of itself at home too. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has entered the arena in two very different areas of government. Following the dreadful racist murder (and yes it was racist) of 10 year old Damilola Taylor in Peckham, Jack Straw said that a “circle of acquiescence” had led to too many people tolerating criminal activity. Well (and oh dear I’m going to upset a lot of you now) we can expect this behaviour to continue until we bring discipline back into our schools. Such murders as these never happened 25 years ago. And I believe this was because children were taught right from wrong at an early age in an environment where schoolteachers were not afraid to enforce discipline. Today we have teachers and head teachers being brought to court for the silliest of reasons. Good teachers losing both face and faith and being banned from teaching, sometimes on the unfounded accusations of a child who is unaware of the crime he/she is committing by falsely accusing the teacher of something the teacher has not done. . In one school in Sheffield teachers were refusing to teach one child (and subsequently any class he was in) for fear of what he might do and apparently it is the teachers who were in the wrong. The infant rules and if we do not teach these infants discipline we can only expect this dreadful behaviour to continue. Would I bring back the cane? Yes I most certainly would. Having said that I am the first to admit however that I’m not always right, indeed I’m frequently proved to be wrong. “Violence begets violence?” I accept that. But bringing somebody to his or her senses in a sharp abrupt way can often prevent further anti-social behaviour. The present system of telling little Johnny he is a naughty boy, time after time, after time is obviously not working. So if you have a better idea, tell me. No on second thoughts tell your local Member of Parliament. In America they take guns to school these days, the system over there has gone beyond control. Are we going to let this happen here in Britain?
Secondly Jack Straw’s proposal for a British football team – made up of the best players from the home nations - seems astonishingly naïve coming only three years after Tony Banks (The former minister for sport and Labour’s court jester) was dismissed. Tony Banks admitted later that his proposal to do the very same thing was “just one of a number of glitches in my transition from a saloon bar sage to world statesman.” (Tony made two glaring mistakes here too – he’s no more of a sage than I am and he will never be a world statesman in his wildest dreams). Indeed to quote Mohammed Ali “If (he) ever dreams he is a world statesman he should wake up and apologise to himself”.
But not all has run smoothly on the other side of the Atlantic during November either. I think it would be true to say that whilst we don’t mind laughing at ourselves most of us object to people laughing at us. So as a Brit I’m going to try to tread carefully here because I continue this little epistle on further shaky ground. I have a lot of American friends and I don’t want to offend 50% of them!
Bill Zorn is a very old friend of mine. Once a member of The Kingston Trio, The New Christy Minstrels and The Arizona Smoke Review, Bill returned to live in America a couple of years ago when the famous Limeliters asked him to take the place of Lou Gottlieb who had sadly died. Bill sent me the following quotes that have been attributed to George W Bush Jnr. The dates have been included where known. Bill says “These would be funny if they weren't so scary”.
"If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure."
“Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child”.
"Mars is essentially in the same orbit...Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe." (November 8th 1994).
"The Holocaust was an obscene period in our nation's history. I mean in this century's history. But we all lived in this century. I didn't live in this century." (15th September 1995).
"I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy - but that could change." (22nd May 1998).
"One word sums up probably the responsibility of any Governor, and that one word is 'to be prepared'”. (6th December 1993).
"Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things” (30th November 1996).
"I have made good judgements in the past. I have made good judgements in the future."
"The future will be better tomorrow.".
"We're going to have the best educated American people in the world." (21st September 1997)
"People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history."
"I stand by all the misstatements that I've made." ...(Governor George W. Bush, Jr. to Sam Donaldson, 17th August 1993).
"We have a firm commitment to NATO, we are a part of NATO. We have a firm commitment to Europe. We are a part of Europe."
"I am not part of the problem. I am a Republican"
"A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls."
"When I have been asked who caused the riots and the killing in LA, my answer has been direct & simple: Who is to blame for the riots? The rioters are to blame. Who is to blame for the killings? The killers are to blame”.
"Illegitimacy is something we should talk about in terms of not having it." (20th May 1996)
"We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur." (22nd September 1997).
"For NASA, space is still a high priority." (5th September 1993)
"Quite frankly, teachers are the only profession that teach our children." (18th September 1995)
"The American people would not want to know of any misquotes that George Bush may or may not make."
"We're all capable of mistakes, but I do not care to enlighten you on the mistakes we may or may not have made.".
"It's time for the human race to enter the solar system”.
"It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."
For my part I would like to think that those quotes were actually nothing more than Democrat propaganda. If they are true we must face the prospect of a future with the strongest nation in the world led by a nincompoop, and the additional worry that 50% of the American public believe in him. If they are genuine then Bill’s right when he says “These would be funny if they weren't so scary”.
Was the recent Presidential Election a farce or simply proof that ‘The American System’ works absolutely perfectly right down to the wire? Whichever it certainly gave the rest of the world something else to talk about for a bit and the script writers had a field day.
The following script was sent to me by Martin Whittell at Salford University. I understand he got it from Rick Christian who had got it from Brian Heywood. Brian in turn got it from Janet Russell, beyond that the origin is unknown. Some of you will have seen it before. Some of you will have seen variations before. If so accept my apologies for printing it again. It’s gone around the folk music scene like wild fire.
To the citizens of the United States of America,
In the light of your failure to elect a President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective today.
Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchial duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories. Except Utah, which she does not fancy. Your new prime minister (The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP for the 97.85% of you who have until now been unaware that there is a world outside your borders) will appoint a minister for America without
the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire will be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.
To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:
1. You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then look up "aluminium". Check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it. Generally, you should raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels.
Look up "vocabulary". Using the same twenty seven words interspersed with filler noises such as "like" and "you know" is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. Look up "interspersed" .
2. There is no such thing as "US English". We will let Microsoft know on your behalf.
3. You should learn to distinguish the English and Australian accents. It really isn't that hard.
4. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as the good guys.
5. You should relearn your original national anthem, God Save The Queen, but only after fully carrying out task 1. We would not want you to get confused and give up half way through.
6. You should stop playing American football. There is only one kind of football. What you refer to as American football is not a very good game. The 2.15% of you who are aware that there is a world outside your borders may have noticed that no one else plays American football. You will no longer be allowed to play it, and should instead play proper football. Initially, it would be best if you played with the girls. It is a difficult game. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which is similar to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like nancies). We are hoping to get together at least a US rugby sevens side by 2005.
7. You should declare war on Quebec and France, using nuclear weapons if they give you any merde. The 98.85% of you who were not aware that there is a world outside your borders should count yourselves lucky. The Russians have never been the bad guys. Merde is French for "shit".
8. July 4th is no longer a public holiday. November 8th will be a new national holiday, but only in England. It will be called Indecisive Day.
9. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and it is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean.
10. Please tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us crazy.
Thank you for your co-operation.
It was a great shock to read in Folk London of the sudden, and to me extremely unexpected, death of Rita Cherriman. Rita ran the Croydon Folk Song Club for almost 20 years taking over from Pete Twitchet. She had a pneumonial infection. She suffered from emphysema resulting from the habit of smoking 20 a day for the greater part of her life, an addiction she could never give up. She was the long time partner of Chris Roche a singer of shanties, a sea song enthusiast, who has actually Rounded the Horn and sailed into Valparaiso. I did not realise myself what a great singer Rita was until I heard her sing Shallow Brown with the Shanty Crew on their cd. I don’t ever recall hearing her sing at the club – but I guess she must have done. I played the club many times when I lived in London, but I believe I’ve only visited it once in the last 15 years since moving to Yorkshire. That last night when I played the club Rita was on holiday.
Meanwhile my own cd ‘Valparaiso Round the Horn’ continues to raise interest and the reviews continue to be kind. A couple of very interesting little reviews came in from people from the South East of England who have not seen me perform for more than two, or perhaps even three, decades. Again possibly a result of my moving to Yorkshire. They remember the original Joe Stead template and are obviously finding it hard to visualise the new one. Perhaps they ought to come and join me sing sometime when I next come south. Anyway very kindly both Jim Marshall and Paul Horner found the time to listen to the album and what is more they also found the time to put pen to paper afterwards. Here is what they said……
Jim Marshall – The (Sussex) Folk Diary.
In recent years Joe Stead has undergone a major transformation from funny-man-with-banjo to a singer of more serious traditional material – a fact well illustrated by this enterprising new release on which Joe, taking as his base the writings of the late shanty-man Stan Hugill, narrates a recreation of a voyage in 1860 from Liverpool to Valparaiso.
All the cruel hardships are there in detail, but so are many of the shanties which partly helped take the sailors’ minds off the work. With the help of a lusty crew of singers, Joe has produced what is obviously a labour of love.
Paul Horner – What’s on Folks.(Kent).
Joe has at last found his true recording vocation as a narrator and singer of sea shanties. He sets the scene and delivers nearly thirty sea working songs to give an insight of life on board a sailing ship travelling out of Liverpool in the nineteenth century. There are explanations of many of the terms and slang used on and off board. Fortunately Joe appears to have left his banjo and other encumbrances away from the recording studio. He has a large number of capstan turners and rope pullers who by some strange chance are all excellent singers! This is indeed an album worth buying and is a complete diversion from the days I remember him at the Woolwich Tramshed curing noisy audience members by pouring offenders lager into their bag of crisps! Well done Joe!!
I had a quite lovely letter arrive from Luis Chirino-Gálvez in Valparaiso which read as follows…….
Dear Mr Stead:
Let me introduce myself. I am Luis Chirino-Gálvez, a geologist and amateur musician (more on the ethnomusicology side). More than a singer, I am an average plectrum player (mandolin, mandola, tenor guitar, tenor banjo, cuatro tenor, laúd tenor), panpiper and flutist that enjoys Andean, Liturgic and Celtic music. For a while I have been collecting old shanties and other Celtic kinds of music related to the old sailing era in the southern seas. My interest is focused within the immigrating communities inhabiting ports as Valparaiso throughout the XIX century. In this search I found your name with a recent recording you did on this kind of music. I would like to know more on what you have done so far on that CD and if possible I would greatly appreciate to get a copy of it. At the same time, I would like to know more about the kind of instruments that were used to sing along shanties and the way these instruments were used in those long trips round the Horn. Here, I have been proposing to begin a music group playing and researching those songs and the way they made the crossover to the local traditional Spanish shanties (canciones de mar).... Attached I send a summary in Spanish on my ideas on that regard.
There are a few of you who get this letter who are fluent in Spanish. You may find this next bit interesting. If you have the time to translate it for me that would be very nice. (I have included Luis’ address and e mail in case you would like to write to him directly.
C H I L E
56 (32) 798983
Notas para investigación:
Shanties, celtic y otras tradiciones musicales en
Durante el período independiente hubo un activo intercambio entre tripulaciones de naves chilenas y británicas. De hecho, en el período inicial casi toda la oficialidad era británica. Luego, con el advenimiento de las máquinas de vapor los maquinistas también solían tener entrenamiento en naves inglesas. Por consiguiente, ciertas tradiciones musicales como los “shanties” fueron muy conocidas por estas tripulaciones en puertos como Valparaíso. La vigencia de aquella tradición se tranculturizó en la forma de refranes y recitados de las marchas navales y en los ejercicios tales como levar anclas o levantar jarcias. Inclusive, se conoce que en muchos barcos del siglo XIX solía haber un tripulante descrito en la nómina de la bitácora como músico “Fiddler” o “bugler” (e.g. Simms Covington, ayudante de Darwin a bordo del Beagle). Dado los viajes marítimos prolongados de la época, muchos otros personajes históricos fueron familiares con esta música. La mayoría de quienes viajaban a Europa la conocieron. Ejemplos de ello son Andrés Bello en Londres, Bernardo O´Higgins quien tocaba el “fiddle” que había aprendido en Inglaterra, o Lady Cochrane quien tocaba mandolina.. En el caso de naves chilenas se presume que junto al repertorio popular chileno (cuecas, tonadas, etc.) se sumó más tarde el repertorio instrumental tradicional de origen español (e.g. Fandangos, pasodobles y habaneras) junto con un sesgo propio ambientado en otras melodías populares que llegaron al país a bordo de navíos a partir de la Independencia. La mayoría de estas melodías son de origen británico y son conocidas universalmente como shanties (canciones de mar) que fueron populares con los tripulantes de barcos que arribaban a puertos como Valparaíso. Se conoce que estas melodías se acompañaban de preferencia con instrumentos portátiles de pequeño tamaño como violines “fiddles”, flautas y mandolinas, y luego las concertinas inventadas en 1829, y harmónicas inventadas en 1844, pues guitarras y otros similares de mayor tamaño estaban limitadas por los problemas de espacio de los entrepuentes de la tripulación. Siempre se presume que las marchas prusianas son el único elemento foráneo que se preserva desde 1890 en la tradición musical naval y militar hasta el presente siglo. Sin embargo, existen antecedentes sobre música popular como los “shanties” en archivos históricos los cuales no han sido documentados a la fecha. Lo cierto es que este tema no ha sido estudiado, representado documentalmente y publicado hasta la fecha por lo cual se propone su estudio.
I’m back on the road again in January. You can find (or avoid) me at the following venues:-
Monday January 15th: The Bridge Hotel, Newcastle. (‘Valparaiso round the Horn’ with Benny Graham, Jim Mageean and The Newcastle Shanty Choir).
Friday January 19th. The Dog and Partridge, Bollington, Near Macclesfield, Cheshire.
Friday January 26th. The Cannon, Newport Pagnell.
I have another possible date for your diary – especially if you live in West Yorkshire or East Lancashire. Tim Nikolai is playing at the Puzzle Hall Inn in Sowerby Bridge on Thursday December 14th. It’s free to get in and you are guaranteed an enjoyable evening if you enjoy listening to good guitarists. Tim is quite excellent – a bit reminiscent of David Qually an American who lived in Britain for about 9 months in the early ‘70’s. Tim has recorded with Stephan Grossman in Rome. So as you can imagine – he is a bit special. If you are free that night and live within travelling distance you should make the effort. You will find the Puzzle Hall Inn on Hollins Mill Lane.
I did a bit of filming in November. I spent one very cold day walking the Streets of Rotherham filming for the new Industrial Museum that is soon to be installed there on the site of an old foundry. They are to have a huge screen in the entrance with various film sequences on various levels of the building with steel workers depicted at leisure and work. Well there aren’t too many authentic steel workers left these days, so they got me and three other chaps to walk down gunnels and across hill tops and round cold Rotherham corners instead. I tell you the wind blows hard and shrill in them parts when it has a mind to.
I also spent one very cold night next to the River Ouse in York filming “At home with the Braithwaites” along with my step daughter Alison and Rahel Guzelian (Rahel is a fine singer from Bradford Topic Folk Club). The sequence is to be shown at the end of February when disaster hits one of the lead actresses. I won’t tell you who in fear of spoiling your undoubted enjoyment!!! Sorry that was sarcasm and not very clever. Don’t hold your breath Alison and myself only appear in the credits at the end!
I’m also filming next week in Armley Jail (Leeds) for Emerdale Farm. I’ll tell you all about that next time, if I ever get out. Apparently they are looking for ugly bastards over 6 foot in height. Should fit me down to a tee. Well it’s more likely than a steel worker.
I’ll leave you this month with the words of John Gillespie Magee. Born in 1922 he came to an untimely end aged just 19 in 1941. We were at war, with more planes than pilots we sent airmen into the skies, some with less than ten hours flying experience, to face almost certain death or disfigurement. And they knew it.
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of; wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sun-lit silence. Hovering there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air;
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
Where never lark nor even eagle flew;
And while, with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Have a Happy Christmas.
Keep smiling and keep singing.